Enforcement primer

MPCA Compliance and Enforcement: It's about protecting the air, water and land

Environmental rules and regulations are essential tools used to protect Minnesota’s environment. These rules and regulations set standards for environmental quality and limits on pollutants that can be discharged from facilities. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) helps protect our environment by writing and enforcing these rules and regulations.

Permit and license holders; the MPCA-regulated community

  • There are tens of thousands of facilities and projects at any given time that affect Minnesota’s environment
  • They are businesses and activities which vary in size and type: manufacturing, mines, farms, airports, local government, and land development; any public or private entity that affects our air, water or land.
  • These entities are regulated through a variety of laws and permits that set limits on what pollutants they may emit to the air, the quality of water they can release, and how they must protect the land they occupy.

MPCA role

  • It is the goal of the MPCA to monitor and assist all these permit holders to comply with State and Federal regulations.
  • MPCA enforcement inspectors periodically visit facilities and projects and review reports and tests, to make sure standards are being met.
  • MPCA enforcement staff respond to tip calls and investigate environmental spills and releases
  • The number-one goal is compliance

Compliance and enforcement tools

MPCA enforcement staff use a variety of tools to respond to instances of noncompliance; ranging from a phone call, to a letter, to an enforcement action assessing a financial penalty. Below are two common tools for serious or repeat violations.

  • Administrative penalty orders require the violation to be corrected within 30 days, and also contain a penalty up to $20,000. In some instances, the penalty may be completely or partially forgiven.
  • Stipulation agreements are used for more significant environmental violations. This agreement is a negotiated settlement between the MPCA and the party. The penalty normally exceeds $20,000 and/or a longer period of time is needed to correct the violation. It also contains set penalties which are triggered if the requirements of the agreement are not met. Agreements may contain a Supplemental Environmental Project, which is an environmentally beneficial project which a party undertakes to offset a portion of the penalty.

How are penalties set?

  • Penalties are based on the potential and/or actual impacts to human health and the environment, as well as how far out of compliance the party was.
  • Penalties are set to recover any economic benefit or excess profits resulting from noncompliance.
  • Penalties may be increased if there is previous enforcement history with the party.
  • Penalties may be increased if the party acts willfully or with recklessness or responds dishonestly to an investigation.
  • Penalties should be consistent with previous, similar cases.
  • Penalties should be large enough to deter noncompliance by others.
  • Penalties may be paid in installments over a period of time, or reduced, if the party's financial records prove an inability to pay.

News releases

The MPCA sends out news releases about environmental enforcement cases to inform the public and provide a deterrent factor to other permitted parties.